VOL. 128 | NO. 170 | Friday, August 30, 2013
Former Speaker Williams to Retire From Tennessee House
ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) – State Rep. Kent Williams, whose 2009 election as House speaker shocked and infuriated fellow Republicans, announced Thursday he won't seek a fifth term to instead run for Carter County mayor next year.
Republicans were still giddy from gaining their first majority in the state House since Reconstruction in the 2008 elections when the House convened for its leadership vote the following January.
But a one-seat advantage in the 99-seat chamber proved the GOP's undoing, when all 49 Democrats banded together with Williams to elect the little-known restaurant owner from Elizabethton as speaker.
The chamber packed with Republican supporters erupted after Williams cast the deciding vote for himself, and some shouted "traitor" and "Judas" as he made his way forward from his seat. Armed state troopers came in to flank the speaker's podium as Williams was sworn in.
Williams said in a phone interview Thursday that he wouldn't have done anything differently, despite the denunciations from fellow Republican in the House following his election as speaker, and later being thrown out of the state GOP for the maneuver.
"People who actually booed when I was elected speaker, we've become really good friends – a lot of them understand, even though they don't' agree," he said. "We've been able to get past all that and work together.
"I have no regrets whatsoever," he said.
Williams had no trouble being re-elected as an independent, but further Republican gains in the Legislature meant his time as speaker would be limited to a single two-year term. He was succeeded by current Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville
Williams, who unsuccessfully lobbied to have his right to run as a Republican restored by the state party, said he will challenge the GOP nominee for mayor in next year's general election.
While Williams said he is on good terms today with many of the colleagues who vocally criticized his election as speaker, not everyone has been willing to move on.
"There's nothing to say about this other than the fact we can finally close this chapter in Tennessee history," State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said in a statement.
Their role in the 2009 speaker's vote represented a last hurrah for House Democrats, whose heavy losses in subsequent elections have relegated them almost to bystander status in the Legislature.
Republicans today hold 70 of 99 seats in the House, and 26 of 33 seats in the Senate.
But Williams looks back fondly on his time in the Legislature as he prepares to run for an office closer to home.
"Just being an old country boy, I think I've done well," he said. "I still have a lot of energy and I still want to serve my community, but I think it's time to do it on another level."
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